I had the opportunity to watch the movie, “The Box” last night, a Netflix rental. The movie stars Cameron Diaz (Norma) and James Marsden (Arthur) as a married couple from the 70’s. The house decor, their clothes, etc. were pretty well-researched. The movie had a 70’s feel to it. Arthur works for NASA and aspires to be an astronaut. Norma is a high school teacher. They have a son named Walter, who looks like he’s about 10 years old. There are aspects of the movie that I felt were not really making sense—like the CIA/NSA conspiracy stuff or the zombie-like people who are minions of some out of sight powers. I’ll just ignore those as they don’t really affect the fundamental dilemma in the story,
The couple are awakened early in the morning by a noise outside. Norma finds a box outside their front door. There is a note inside that they will be contacted by “Mr. Steward” that afternoon. Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) informs Norma that she and her husband will be given $1M (Think $10-25M in our time) if they press the red button on the box. However, if they choose to do so, someone unknown to them will die. They have 24 hours to decide whether they will press the button or not.
To make matters rather complicated, we learn that Norma has a foot deformity as a result of an accident when she was 17. They have not been able to afford the surgery to help make it more bearable for her to walk longer distances or even wear a proper shoe. She appears to wear boots a lot in the film.
Arthur receives a denial letter on his application to be an astronaut. He’s very disappointed and he is joined by his superiors in their collective puzzlement as to why he would be denied. After all, he “aced” all the tests.
I guess we can go into all the permutations of why it would be wrong to press that red button. How could any of us live with ourselves knowing that the money we would enjoy has caused someone else their life? But then, we are spectators and not the very people who are put to this. I think if the proposition were put to us and there were some things we wanted to buy or do, things might be a little different.
Then there is another dilemma down the line. Later in the film, some people kidnap Walter, the son. Mr. Steward appears again and tells Norma and Arthur that their son is locked upstairs in their bathroom. However, he can’t hear nor see. He will only regain his sight and hearing if one of them kills the other. He proceeds to give them a gun with a single bullet and leaves them alone.
Somewhere in the movie before this, we are shown how much Arthur adores his wife. He fashions a shoe insert for her so she can wear regular shoes without the discomfort and it works. (this was the 70’s and orthotics was not as well-developed as it is now). She is so grateful for his concern for her well-being. They are obviously very much in love.
So, if you were Arthur or Norma, what would you do? Go through life as a family, with your son, who will spend the rest of his life blind and deaf? Or would you kill your spouse so your son can see and hear? I watch them agonize over this. I honestly would have a difficult choice. I would not want to take a life, any life for that matter. But then, here is my child, so young, with everything in front of him. And it is my decision whether he would be condemned to a life with two senses taken away from him. One could argue that at least he could speak, smell, and feel things. One could argue that there are people in the world who have similar affliction and they are able to live productive lives. But what if you knew you could do something so they could be normal again? What would you do? What would you do?